I’ve been hearing about Katherine Heigl’s eyebrow-raising refusal to submit her name for Emmy consideration because she thought the Grey’s Anatomy scripts hadn’t handed her anything Emmy worthy. I didn’t even bother reading about it, because I figured most of the response would be indignation – how dare she admit a money-making show doesn’t rise to her creative standards? How dare she have standards? How dare she do what she thinks is right? And even the more distant coverage assumed it was a ruse to get a raise or get out of her contract or something. I mean, she couldn’t just have an opinion, right? And most importantly, she’s not grateful for her job, which so many people would kill to have.
A reader named Terry sent me to this article, which puts a refreshing light on it. It talks about examples of male actors who’ve shunned Hollywood’s sacred cows and the reaction they got, starting with Paul Newman not showing up to receive an Oscar for The Color of Money:
And yet, that tough-guy persona enhanced his public image as a man of integrity who lived on his own terms, Gabler said. Newman’s awards-hating colleagues included Marlon Brando and George C. Scott, who refused an Oscar for his grandiose performance in 1970’s “Patton.” Brando sent a Native American surrogate to turn down his statuette when he won best actor in 1972 for “The Godfather.”
Heigl, on the other hand, simply declined to put her name in consideration for an Emmy bid.
But it was her reasons for doing so that ignited a media firestorm, fueled by this statement: “I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention. In addition, I did not want to potentially take away an opportunity from an actress who was given such materials.”
Heigl’s announcement spread swiftly online, where it was variously heralded, ridiculed and hashed out by a vocal mob eager to weigh in.
I’m preaching to the choir when I point out that men – white ones, at least – doing these things get viewed very differently than women do. Most of you who read this already believe that. What’s refreshing is to see that CNN gets it too:
But outspoken female stars such as Heigl could run into problems keeping an audience just by dint of gender.
“I think women have a much more difficult time, because when a woman makes demands as Barbra Streisand always did, I think they’re more likely to say, ‘What the hell does she want?’ You don’t see it in the same terms of integrity and honesty. It’s a harder sell,” Gabler said.
Kim Basinger’s career, for example, pretty much went downhill for awhile after she refused to appear in 1993’s “Boxing Helena,” in which a woman is forced to live in a box after her limbs are amputated by a surgeon in a desperate act of courtship. Basinger, who said she was put off by the film’s gratuitous sex scenes, was sued for breach of contract and ordered to pay $7.4 million in damages. She filed for bankruptcy but had a comeback in 1997 with “L.A. Confidential,” for which she won an Oscar for supporting actress.
Indeed, actresses — especially those with conventionally attractive looks such as Heigl and Basinger — are largely expected to play the game, shut up and smile, while demanding actors such as Sean Penn are handed creative control and respect, among eye rolls.
“In this town, women who don’t just snap and say, ‘OK, yes sir, yes ma’am,’ start to get a reputation for being difficult,” she said last year in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “But within the last five years, I’ve decided it’s not worth it to me to be pushed around so much.”
Exactly. And it’s not just actresses. Female writers are expected to have brains and opinions – it’s usually even appreciated – but they’re supposed to understand that market forces coerce Hollywood into making sexist films. If they keep making a good case for how it’s really that box office returns are being interpreted incorrectly to justify making sexist films, they’re warned no one will take them seriously if they keep up that silly talk.
In every walk of life, men are perceived as having a right to stand up for what they believe and/or “misbehave” – no matter how we disagree with what they’ve said or done. Women who step out of line are perceived as needing punishment – a good spanking to teach us our places. Additionally, our motives are more likely to be treated as suspect – it can’t be that we really believe what we’re saying. We must have an agenda.
As for Hollywood’s insistence on treating her remarks as a slap against the writers, I find that disingenuous at best. I think it’s a smokescreen. She was deliberately vague because she knows – just as they do – that writers don’t get to write whatever they want. Scripts are shaped by network demands, producer’s opinions, etc. Heigl isn’t singling anyone out. What she’s actually saying is: you can have a successful show that’s not artistically worth much. Who didn’t know that already, and what cave have they been living in?
I’d honestly forgotten about this until I was halfway through writing the article, but Heigl and I have one more thing in common besides being outspoken about when film and TV get it wrong: years ago I worked as an extra on a low-budget movie in which Heigl starred back before she hit it big. Funnily enough, I remember watching her work and noting she seemed very uncertain – not of herself, as I initially thought, but of the movie. I quickly came to share her misgivings. The assistant director told the crew (and all us extras) to applaud and cheer whenever she finished a take. She was very gracious about the cheering, but you could tell she wasn’t buying it.
And she was right – the movie was intended to be a golden turkey (so bad it’s kinda good), but they didn’t have the formula quite right. It got released straight to DVD, and I doubt a copy ever sold for more than $4.99. No one submitted their names for the Academy’s consideration. Gosh, we’re such rebels.